Trophic garnishes: Cat-rat interactions in an urban environment

Gregory Eric Glass, Lynne C. Gardner-Santana, Robert D. Holt, Jessica Chen, Timothy M. Shields, Manojit Roy, Stephen Schachterle, Sabra L. Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Community interactions can produce complex dynamics with counterintuitive responses. Synanthropic community members are of increasing practical interest for their effects on biodiversity and public health. Most studies incorporating introduced species have been performed on islands where they may pose a risk to the native fauna. Few have examined their interactions in urban environments where they represent the majority of species. We characterized house cat (Felis catus) predation on wild Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus), and its population effects in an urban area as a model system. Three aspects of predation likely to influence population dynamics were examined; the stratum of the prey population killed by predators, the intensity of the predation, and the size of the predator population. Methodology/Principal Findings: Predation pressure was estimated from the sizes of the rat and cat populations, and the characteristics of rats killed in 20 alleys. Short and long term responses of rat population to perturbations were examined by removal trapping. Perturbations removed an average of 56% of the rats/alley but had no negative long-term impact on the size of the rat population (49.6±12.5 rats/alley and 123.8±42.2 rats/alley over two years). The sizes of the cat population during two years (3.5 animals/ alley and 2.7 animals/alley) also were unaffected by rat population perturbations. Predation by cats occurred in 9/20 alleys. Predated rats were predominantly juveniles and significantly smaller (144.6 g±17.8 g) than the trapped rats (385.0 g±135.6 g). Cats rarely preyed on the larger, older portion of the rat population. Conclusions/Significance: The rat population appears resilient to perturbation from even substantial population reduction using targeted removal. In this area there is a relatively low population density of cats and they only occasionally prey on the rat population. This occasional predation primarily removes the juvenile proportion of the rat population. The top predator in this urban ecosystem appears to have little impact on the size of the prey population, and similarly, reduction in rat populations doesn't impact the size of the cat population. However, the selected targeting of small rats may locally influence the size structure of the population which may have consequences for patterns of pathogen transmission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere5794
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 3 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Trophic garnishes: Cat-rat interactions in an urban environment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this